Four years ago this week my eldest daughter, for an academic project, needed to interview someone relating to their profession. She chose to ask me a series of questions relating to my life as a pastor. Having been reminded of this today I read back through my answers and the answer to this question is necessary for many who are in the ministry of shepherding these days. I have already made the distinction of a pastor/shepherd and just a teacher/preacher.  The first does the second but not all who do the latter are called to the first.  This answer was given to a 16-year-old girl who has always been fascinated by the work of the Lord in our lives, and moreover, His providence in the times of great hardship.

How has being a pastor affected your life? Well, it has made my life hard. Ministry for the average “church” is just a list of things done and programs practiced, but for me it has been different. Having pastored churches of over 2000 members as well as churches of 40 members, God has allowed me to see one continual stream through it all: suffering. In suffering God is made brighter because I have not been able to qualify any success in ministry by my wisdom or hands. So, at many times pastoring is a lonely place, even though we are surrounding continually by people, the burden is difficult to express and in some ways, unnecessary. Many pastors will lie and say, “It’s a big ball of fun..” But it isn’t, it is gloriously satisfying but gravely burdensome. So, to simply put it, pastoring has allowed me to see that my life is not mine, but it is God’s and He has given it away to others for His name’s sake. This gives me great satisfaction.

This, among other things, is a great reminder and glimpse at the nature of the cross work of Christ, the continued work of laboring as Paul and the Apostles did for the sheep of Christ. We will suffer and we will suffer well. 

 

[18] And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, [19] serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; [20] how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, [21] testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. [22] And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, [23] except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. [24] But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:18–24)

The Duty of A Pastor to be FAITHFUL

This podcast briefly discusses that the Pastor should be faithful to his calling by the grace of God and not be entangled in the things of this world but trust and point to the ONE who is faithful, Jesus Christ.

Fulfilling faithfully his call to Christ. Without the grace of God, no one would be able to ever be faithful to their calling.  And without the grace of God, we would all abandon our faith. God’s grace is the power of the pastor’s success and true success is NOT measured in salvation, baptism, numbers, finances or the like.  Any professional could produce the right numbers through the easily manipulated minds of men. And it is surely God that produces the fruit of the labors of any ministry that He alone gets the glory.  God called Noah and Isaiah to a fruitless ministry of no conversion and total rejection. What makes us think we’ll see anything different?

The pastor should be faithful to these things above all other duties and if he is gifted in areas outside of these, then, by all means, he should exercise these gifts, however, any man that calls himself pastor, cannot be such without these traits given to him by the Holy Spirit of God.

“What a pastor is supposed to be doing can be found clearly in the Word of God.”

The Duty of A Pastor to Follow before for the Flock

This podcast briefly discusses that the Pastor should be an example before for the church in his own spiritual disciplines and growth.

Following Christ before the flock.  The duties of a pastor will cause him to display his faith and carry his church where God has brought him.  He should display the fruits of the spirit of God in all that he does by God’s grace alone, knowing that he is nothing but a slave to righteousness and not a divine leader who rules but a servant who dies.  A wise friend once told me that when a man has to say he’s the leader, it is then he has lost the privilege to lead.  He continued with a man that goes forth with no one following him is just a “man taking a walk.”  Wise.  This fourth duty of a pastor is one where all of us fail in our actions, but by the Lord’s grace, we will not fail in our faith, for HE is the author and perfector of it!

1 Peter 5:1-3 (ESV) 1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.

“What a pastor is supposed to be doing can be found clearly in the Word of God.”

 

The Duty of A Pastor to Fight for the Flock

This podcast briefly discusses that the Pastor should be involved in fighting for the church through the teaching of Scriptures and in his personal disciplines.

Ephesians 6:12 (ESV) 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

The pastor fights for the flock in his STUDIES, his PRAYERS, his TEACHING and his DISCIPLESHIP.  These duties of a pastor are all necessary avenues for battle and they must be done for the sake of the church, those who are entrusted into his oversight.  Fellowship with the brethren is essential in order to know their hearts and lives.  As the flock grows, the pastor must accept the call of other men to the ranks of a shepherd to assist in this battle.  A pastor who is faithful to these things will be equipped to handle the calling for which God has called him. 

“What a pastor is supposed to be doing can be found clearly in the Word of God.”

 

The Duty of A Pastor to Fend for the Flock

This podcast briefly discusses that the Pastor should be involved in fending for the church through the teaching of Scriptures.

Titus 1:9 (ESV) 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

Acts 20:28-31 (ESV) 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.

 

“What a pastor is supposed to be doing can be found clearly in the Word of God.”

 

The Duty of A Pastor to Feed the Flock

This podcast briefly discusses that the Pastor should be involved in feeding the church through the teaching of Scriptures.

Feeding the flock.  This sounds very trivial, but the primary role of a pastor is to feed the people who God has put under his care.  This feeding is accomplished through the right teaching of the word of God. This teaching is good for the church and for their joy, edification, doctrine, exhortation, admonishment, and maturity.  Everything that the church is to do comes primarily through the teaching of the scriptures from the pastors.  A church that is not fed the truth is malnourished and finds other meals to eat. This is one of the most vital duties of a pastor and from this, all the others follow.

1 Timothy 3:2 (ESV) 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach…

2 Timothy 4:2 (ESV) 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

 

“What a pastor is supposed to be doing can be found clearly in the Word of God.”

 

The teaching of Paul is constantly that the Lord’s servant must be humble, quiet, not given to argument, debate, aggressiveness, etc. The acting on either side of the fence is deplorable to me: those who feel they must “look the part” and “say the part” of either the soft or hard versions of a pastoral culture. Scripture shows what a man is and a man is one who is able to gently and humbly speak the truth so that God is glorified in the message and the power behind the message, not us.

Success can be confusing. No matter the field or context of life, measuring success is a dominant desire. This measuring becomes problematic when the matrix is misunderstood. Ignorance of what constitutes success can bring a plethora of issues both externally and internally in the life of an individual or organization. Considering successful ministry can be daunting and I know in my tenure as a pastor I’ve been taught conflicting thoughts on how to know if I am successful. For over 20 years the idea of ‘counting’ heads and money has been the measure of success but if we peer into the pages of scripture, there would be no example of a successful church, pastor, apostle or Savior if that were the case. Others have concluded that success should be based on the experience of the individual or the congregation. They would posit that true success isn’t how many, but rather, how powerful the experience. Again, if this is measured in comparison to the New Testament, there would be no historic picture of success found in these measurements.

There is the room of course, for many conversations of practical wisdom as it relates to dealing with people, communicating, caring and doing life together, but any human being can pull off successful ventures of gathering up people with a common goal or vision. It only takes a brain and a voice. The problem comes when all this discombobulated instruction on success invades the mind of a pastor or congregation and they begin to make strides to ‘measure up’ according to man’s wisdom. While I’ve spoken to these things before, I want to know just put the authority where it should be; the Word of God.

When we want to see an amazing feat we can go to either a magic show, and be deceived and enjoy it, or we can go to a sporting event or daredevil exhibition. Either way, there are many amazing things to behold in the world of daring humanity. If we want our breath to be taken we can listen to a chorale of voices singing the classics of old, a symphony bringing the trills and tonal harmonies to life in our ears, or we can view the grandeur of the sea, the mountains or the beyond! Sadly, all of these things, while awe-inspiring, are not majestic or awesome in comparison to the glory of God. So, in man’s feeble mind, he has tried to find other ways to behold the power of God and then painted the canvas of “worship” and “church” with these silly and boring tactics.

How amazing would it be if I were preaching this Sunday and out of the blue I began to float in the air and fire came from my hands as I read the words of Jesus? People would think they had witnessed a miracle and their hearts and minds would be overpowered by that experience. Likewise, if I walked out into the congregation and touched the ailing and their bodies were actually healed, legs grew back, eyesight restored; people would lose their mind in amazement. What if I were able to know things that were not mine to know or had the ability to provide music that would shudder the soul and cause others to feel, what they thought, the very presence of God? I would submit that all of this, even if it happened in greater detail, would be boring and nothing in comparison to seeing the glory of God face-to-face!

So, if we want to SEE a miracle, it is better to stop looking for the next great “work” of God and realize that there is already a perfect miracle for us to behold every moment of our lives! Jesus in John 6 says, “This is the work of God that you believe in the Son that He has sent.” See, the people of John 6 wanted more miracle food. When Jesus refused to feed them in their hunger and commanded them to be satisfied in Him, they wanted a sign for Jesus to prove Himself as worthy. In the same manner, many professing believers seem to believe in anything they can feel, create, and experience that satisfies their flesh instead of actually believing in Jesus Christ and His finished work of redemption. The point is that success in ministry is not measured by the number of people in the pews, money in the bank, missionaries in the field, miracles on the stage, healings in the clinics, or tongues in the air like cymbals. It is measured by the majesty and glory of God in the face of the people of God, who believe, worship and love each other with all authority. So how then are we to measure this? How is this experienced and evident in the life of the church? Through the Word of God Alone!

God’s word faithfully proclaimed is the only measure of successful ministry.

2 Timothy 3:[16] All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, [17] that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

ὠφέλιμος – means valuable, profitable, having worth and bringing a yield. So, the word of God, which is God speaking, is profitable for all things that the church needs. It teaches (doctrine), reproofs (disapproves), corrects (sets right), and trains in righteousness (teaches Christ). The successful pastor is equipped for every good work through the Scripture. That is the miracle of God and a display of His creative power at work. His word being taught, His sheep hearing and heeding, and His people being governed by the Miracle of New Life by His everlasting Grace. Anything else is just boring and of lesser awe than this!  Stop seeking out the devil’s measure of majesty and rest in the revelation of God to you.

Rest in Christ!

While there are many who claim to understand this phrase, it only applies to the efforts of many evangelistic appeals that accompany a large majority of “evangelical” ministry. Easy believism as a term has been captured by some to mean simply believing the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in Scripture. For our conversation here, that is not what is meant. Easy believism is the realm of ‘quick’ and ‘fashioned’ methods or responses that supposedly secure faith. These methods are seen in the practices of the ‘altar call’, ‘sinner’s prayer’, ‘Jesus in the heart’, ‘making a decision for Jesus’, ‘checking the box’, ‘raising the hand’, ‘repeat after me’, and more other aspects of sealing the response to the Gospel command.

Without going into a 250-page history lesson on the Evangelical Church, I’ll just place a few highlights on the history of such practices:

  1. In the 19th century, Charles Finney had a very heretical view of man’s condition after the fall of Adam and Eve and supposed that preachers could overcome obstacles to faith in Christ. Finney is in gross error because scripture teaches that man is inherently depraved and sins because of his nature, sinner.
  2. He produced a series of revival tactics that included having people come forward to receive Christ while also employing multiple tactics like coercion through fear, sadness, music, stories, and mourners who would come forward with others to encourage them to “do something” in response to belief.
  3. Others copied and began to expand the practices of Finney which eventually changed the mission and message of preaching through manipulation and response, instead of the biblical teaching of “bold statement of the truth” and trusting in the Spirit to bring salvation.
  4. DL Moody was a successor of Finney who engaged in an ecumenical effort developing campaigns of ‘mulit-faith’ groups who would utilize music and celebrity appearance to bring hearers to the Finney style responses to a call, not to a clear Gospel message.
  5. The most prominent proponents of ‘decisionism’ is Billy Graham who started his ministry in 1950 and in the same year began a national radio show, “Hour of Decision.” This launched his revivalist efforts and Graham’s tactics and techniques have been normative for the majority of professions of faith for much of the 20th century.
  6. Evangelical churches continue to invest a great deal of time and energy in ‘decisions’ for Jesus while the church of America continually gets weaker and weaker in truth, commitment, sound doctrine, and power. The church answered this over the last 40 years by engaging more and more programs, training and assimilation strategies that further divide the simple and plain teaching of Scripture from the lives of people.

In brief, this type of belief is found in no place in scripture. Some may try to employ the Romans 10:9 card, but by doing so, they twist scripture for their own practices. Ultimately, the continued use of such things is a blatant disregard for the Lord and His word. It’s a refusal to listen to sound teaching and engage in useful and profitable dialog concerning the souls of men. Sadly, it appears that people really do love the glory that comes from men rather than God’s ultimate glory that is revealed in the ‘foolish’ gospel message of Scripture.

If you find yourself trusting in any of the aforementioned methods, I would encourage you to consider your hope and whether or not you really do have security in your eternal life. Maybe your hope really is in Christ Alone, and God pushed through the methods with the message of the cross to your ears. If not, then take a moment and write out your testimony. Describe your salvation, your hope, your security and your exultation in Christ. I will gladly and privately respond to walk you through the gospel of Christ and its absolute power over sin and death!

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation first to the Jew then the Gentile. Romans 1:16.  Are you ashamed? Let’s pray not.

In closing, belief in Christ is easy. It is seeing and being persuaded of what God has said about His Son. What Jesus has accomplished in His life, death and resurrection constitute the good news, because, without it, every human being is justly condemned in his sins. Believe ‘simply’ on Christ Alone, if you really think about it, all this other stuff isn’t easy at all, but more and more works that condemn and have no object of hope.

For His Glory,

Pastor James

People are always in need of help. It’s a fact of life. Finding the right type of help can be difficult for most. It’s difficult to choose from all the noise offering to change lives for the better. What form of ‘help’ is the right form? Should one seek some counseling? If so, then what type? Even counseling is vast in its practice. There is biblical counseling, therapeutic, psychological, psychiatric, self-motivating and there are a million divisions of these types of help. For many Christians, they look to the church hoping to find help through their pastor or a small group or even a friend. The trend in preaching has taken this approach as well and is viewed by many as just another arm of help in a time of need. If people in large number are seeking to be helped by preaching, then what constitutes a sermon that helps? How should pastors focus their teaching for the sake of their congregation?

A Helpful Sermon Carries Great Assumptions

Visions of grandeur often accompany many well-meaning pastors. They think that if they don’t say the right thing or if they are not creative enough, then church members are going to be lacking. It should be understood that God is supreme over all circumstances and when it comes to His own, He uses all things, good and bad, for their good. So, there is nothing that takes place in this life that is outside the eternal decrees of God. Preaching then must assume this reality, speak from this authority and provide exactly what God has chosen as an answer. Preaching that changes in content depending on the seasons or culture is not preaching. The preacher has become the pundit and no longer has any power to offer help. God alone helps. His word alone is all counsel for good and profit.  (2 Timothy 3:16) Another assumption that the scripture offers is its audience. Not one point of the Holy Writ was composed or sent to unbelieving people. The Scripture is for the church and it only useful for the people of God, those who are in Jesus Christ.

A Helpful Sermon is Contextual

If the above assumptions are cemented helpful preaching should flow naturally from the text of Scripture. Often pastors feel the need to ‘invent’ something that is not seen in the text or even ‘expound’ philosophically on items related to the text. While this is good practice as needed (if the text speaks to the matter), it should be very minimal. What God’s word says has the power to change, not what we are thinking about what God’s word says. Contextual preaching then is the means through which the pastor will most benefit the church. A helpful sermon is one that stands within the text of Scripture and never pulls away from the original meaning. God alone shows what He is saying, He doesn’t need us to break into His mind and offer assistance to Him. Using a sentence out of context is not only ‘unhelpful’ but it is a very prideful engagement. It often shows either a lack of maturity on the part of a pastor, a lack of esteem for the Word of God, or a lack of discernment. Either way, it should be corrected and God’s word should be allowed to do what it was sent to do. (Isaiah 55:11; Hebrews 4:12)

A Helpful Sermon Brings Maturity

Most circumstances in life are out of the control of the ones experiencing them. So, to teach people to do something that is out of their control is a waste of time. It also brings the hearer to a place of despair or worse, a place of false hope. Paul teaches the Ephesian church to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15) and the church will mature. What is the truth? The truth is spoken when each believer teaches the word of God to each other. It is spoken when it is ‘out of season’ and not received very well for the benefit and joy of another. It is spoken when preaching centers on the purpose of growing the church, which is inclusive of being able to ‘endure’ problems and ‘overcome’ circumstances that are out of their control. It often appears that pastors want to change people’s lives by changing the way they act or think. Scripture changes people’s lives, actions, and thoughts by showing them the power of God and His purposes in all things, even bad ones. True help is growth in grace, growth in Christ, growth in joy and all of these come through God’s word being taught as it is written. A helpful sermon can never point to what man can do or change in order to create the environment or circumstances for help. It must always point to the sufficiency of Jesus Christ and His power, purpose, and provision in all things.

A Helpful sermon continually focuses on the person of Christ and His work of atonement. God alone purposes the assembly and preaching for one reason, that He is glorified in His people. While the Scripture is used to preach Christ unto Salvation, that is done through right teaching of Christ, not through placating to felt-needs and ‘helps’ that have no eternal interests or glory in them. God’s word is the ONLY authority on all matters related to the church. God can do more in one second than all the helpful quippy and creative pep-talks combined in the world over a million years. Teaching God’s word not only helps, it teaches the church to hear the Lord, eat on their own, and to also help others with Scripture. Preaching out of context robs the body of Christ of all the blessings that Scripture brings.

Colossians 3:16-17

[16] Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. [17] And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (ESV)

God alone speaks with authority. He is the Helper. He uses finite men to open their mouths and proclaim His word through which He brings the message of hope and life!

Preach hard, pray with peace, and exalt the Christ brethren.

Pastor James